Fuji X-E1, Initial Impressions as a Manual Street Photography Camera . . .

. . . The decision to return to digital was the result of several months of inner debating. My reasons for abandoning film were covered in a previous post I’m Moving Back To Digital

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Now as you’ve no doubt guessed from the title (and the photograph), the camera I have purchased to take over the role of my ONLY street camera is the Fuji X-E1 with the Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8 – f/4 XF Mount Lens.

I hesitate to use the phrase ‘kit lens’, as traditionally such lenses included with a new camera are of questionable quality.

This lens is most definitely not one of those as will become apparent (I’m talking Leica image quality here).

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With this review, I am intentionally going to steer clear of the technical side of the camera and lens, as well as avoiding scientific tests, pixel peeping, producing charts, or comparing it to a long list of current or recent cameras. There are no end of very well written tests and reviews covering this and only a quick search away.

This review is from the point of view of a seriously enthusiastic Street Photographer. Someone who has shot both digital and analogue rangefinders, mainly Leica and the occasional SLR/DSLR, and as a result, likes to shoot fully Manual or Aperture Priority with Manual Focus. Here goes . . .

Let me start by saying, I love this camera. Even if only from a cosmetic point of view, you can’t help but be knocked sideways by it. The black metal top plate, complete with both manual shutter and exposure compensation dials, instantly lets you know this is a seriously competent piece of kit.

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Upon handling the camera, I was struck by how solid and ‘dense’ it felt. It’s obviously well made, though is refreshingly lighter than my previous Leica M5 and even the M8. The ‘important’ controls land exactly where they should. The shutter button requires no reaching with the index finger, the shutter dial can be changed swiftly and without fuss. I like the on/off switch, which reminds me of that from the M8. The very useful Function Button is a marvelous addition. I have it set for ISO. So everything in that area is spot-on.

Moving to the other ‘end’, the lens features both aperture, focusing and zoom rings, all of which have a wonderfully tactile feel, with good indents on the aperture but no markings. The focusing ring moves smoothly with just the right amount of drag, and since the recent 1.06 firmware update, has a perfectly ‘natural’ travel and precision. The zoom from 18-55 (27-83 in 35mm) is very smooth and glitch free. In all, the lens feels very well made.

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There is however one unfathomable area of the lens design which is surely a massive oversight by the entire design and development team (?). The aperture and focus rings are located the wrong way round. The focus is at the front of the lens and the aperture is at the back, close to the body.

This has been the biggest stumbling block, but with two days of ‘on the job’ practice, is becoming less of an obstacle. I approached this camera realising there would be some different ways of doing things and that to stubbornly resist these changes would cause nothing but stress and disappointment. As both the rings are fly-by-wire, maybe a menu option to change this is something that could be addressed in a future update?

Next up is the EVF. This has been a bone of contention with many, though is something I have fully embraced. With it’s very high resolution OLED display, the view through it is both bright and pin sharp. In fact, after just a few minutes of use, I had completely forgotten that it wasn’t an OVF, such was the clarity of vision. Dare I say, it’s better and more usable than a Leica’s and packed with every piece of information you could hope for, all of which is customizable. There’s even a Dioptre wheel.

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Also, I’ve found none of the often mentioned delay in low light. Rather, when the ambient light dims, the viewfinder demonstrates a slight ‘shimmer’, which in practice isn’t unpleasant or a hindrance.

One thing I discovered quite quickly is regarding the Auto-Power Off. I had left it set to the standard 2 minutes, however lifting the camera to my eye to take the first shot in 5 minutes, I pressed the shutter button and instead of taking the picture, I woke the camera up. Needless to say, I changed the setting to ‘always on’. I only shoot using the EVF and rarely ‘chimp’, so battery life is pretty much unchanged.

Manual focusing is also really easy such is the clarity of the image, making it very obvious when the subject is in focus. Also, by pressing the control wheel, then turning left or right, you can select a 3 or 10x magnified view to aid in focusing, but I haven’t found it necessary. Fuji has also announced that on the 23rd July ’13, they will be releasing a firmware update (2.0) which will add Focus Peaking, though I don’t feel it’s needed as I grew up with manual focusing. I’m sure it will be a hugely popular feature though, which can only be a good thing.

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If this wasn’t enough, there is the superb AE-L / AF-L button on the rear-top-right of the thumb rest. With the viewfinder to your eye and MF enabled, just a quick press of this will instantly ‘snap’ the lens to the correct focus of wherever you are pointing the camera. This is a really useful and time saving feature, especially if the subject distance is way different to where the lens is set. This has enabled me to capture a shot I would previously have missed with film.

Onto the shutter and in particular, the response time and volume. I was relieved to find that with MF selected and Zone Focused, the reaction time of the shutter was instantaneous. And that’s without a half-press. There is for me nothing more satisfying than the ‘direct’ feel I usually associate with a mechanical camera. However, with AF (which I don’t use) there is a slightly longer delay and a more ‘disconnected’ feeling. Also, it’s reassuring to hear the sound of a real shutter working away inside, a high quality ‘schunk’. At no point however is it too loud, intrusive or oppressive and on a par with any analogue Leica.

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I only shoot JPEG and the reasons are many. Firstly, the Fuji JPEG engine is superb. Shot on the highest quality with all in-camera settings at normal and with a simple conversion in SilverEfex 2, I would challenge anyone to get more out of a RAW file. Indeed, many are trying because they believe that you will get more from RAW. This may have been true in the past, but Fuji have really turned a corner with the X-E1 & X-Pro1.

Secondly and as I’ve mentioned previously, I really like the conversions obtainable in SilverEfex. Now the problem is that I use Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS3. The earliest Adobe Camera Raw that can open the X-E1 Raw files is version 7.1. This doesn’t run in LR2 or CS3. I could upgrade to LR4, but this doesn’t run in Windows XP (which I have), only Vista or later.

I could ‘develop’ the RAW files in the RAW converter supplied with the camera, however SilverEfex doesn’t run in Fuji RAW Converter and the converted file would be a JPEG anyway. So I may as well shoot in JPEG only. Pheww. 🙂

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The way the camera fits in the hand required some getting accustomed to. Due to the large number of buttons on the rear of the body, it takes a little time to find a comfortable place for the thumb so as to be sure that you’re not activating or changing something. I reckon a Thumb Rest could help greatly and also make the handhold more secure. To that end, I have ordered a cheap ‘chinese’ hotshoe-mounted alloy Thumb Rest in the style of the ThumbsUp from Amazon here. It is ridiculously cheap.

Battery life so far is rather good and far better than I used to get from the Leica M8. I’m currently getting around 350 shots per charge. I have bought another battery to be on the safe side and a cheap travel charger (both from Amazon here and here) that runs from the 12 volt Cigar Lighter in the Camper Van. This was necessary as 240 volt mains is hard to find elsewhere.

The standard strap is quite nice and wraps around my wrist ok for holding in one hand between shots. I will keep my eye out for something else though for no reason that I can think of. 😀

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So in summary, I have been pleasantly suprised and delighted with the X-E1 and 18-55 Lens combo’. The Fujinon glass has been a real eye opener. The fact that they are able to produce a kit lens of such incredibly high build and image quality, is simply stunning. One can’t help but wonder that if Leica made an M-Mount Zoom (maybe the Tri-Elmar is close) it would be priced somewhere around the £2500 – £3000 mark, not the approximately £400 price point of the Fujinon. I’m already considering and looking for a decent used 35mm f/1.4. Now that is supposed to produce incredible results.

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Ultimately however, the biggest revelation was how quickly I was able to ‘fit into’ the camera and how so perfectly it seemed to ‘disappear’ whilst shooting it.

I take my hat off to Fuji for an incredible achievement. Just 3 years ago, Fuji were associated with mediocre P&S cameras. The thought of giving up Leica’s and film for a Fuji would, for me at least, have been laughable.

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If you are considering moving to a smaller, lighter, cheaper priced and high quality Compact Camera System, my money is on the Fuji X-E1 and Fujinon Lenses.


If you’re thinking of buying a used Fuji X-E1, there are often several to chose from on eBay UK here.

 

Author: Kevin Shelley

Street Photography. eBooks. Blog. Shoots and reviews cameras. Develops film. Writes novelesque articles.

11 thoughts on “Fuji X-E1, Initial Impressions as a Manual Street Photography Camera . . .”

  1. Enjoyed your post – well written and great images. The Fuji cameras have me excited about photography and a whole new way of shooting, that being street photography. I understand completely how you feel about the X-E1. I echo the same sentiments. It’s more that just getting a new camera, it’s a whole new experience. Cheers!

    Like

    1. Hi Bob and pleased you enjoyed the review.

      There is a definite something about this new camera system that just lets me get on with making pictures.

      If it’s this much fun after one week, what’s it gonna be like after a year?

      Welcome to the world of Street Photography. It’s ever changing and you never know what your gonna ‘catch’.

      Good times. 😀

      Like

  2. Hi, I’m an avid street photographer and thus far I’ve been using a canon 5D mkii with a 40mm pancake lens. Because it’s a bit heavy and there’s quite a giveaway sound (mirror slap) when you take a shot, I’ve been spending time considering what I could replace it with. I’d pretty much narrowed it down to the Leica M8 (for reasons of quality and affordability) and then I came across your video on youtube, “Leica M8 – The Best Camera for Street Photography “.
    Ah, I thought, this proves I’m on the right lines. Imagine my shock when I followed the link to your blog, to find that you now use a Fuji XE-1.
    You could perhaps save me a lot of trouble and money here by explaining what your decision process was, in changing from the M8. Also did you consider the X Pro1 ?

    many thanks

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    1. Hi,

      That’s a good question and not so easy to answer, though I’ll try.

      When I made the Leica M8 video about 2.5 years ago, the M8 was really the only digital camera available (except the too expensive M9) that gave the style of photography I and others wanted, ie. a manual focus, manual operation camera.

      About a year ago, I became dissatisfied with digital photography, as I felt the images I was taking had no ‘body’ to them, just a series of binary 1’s and 0’s. So I sold the M8 and moved to 35mm film with an M5.

      All was OK for a year but then I finished restoring a VW Camper Van, which meant I could travel around taking more photo’s. As a result, I found I wanted to shoot more and not spend valuable time developing and scanning film.

      So I began looking at the digital market again and it had moved-on quite a bit. I looked at another M8, but these are now getting long in the tooth, is a 7 year old model and Leica can no longer replace the sensors when needed. Plus the fact that in order to get the best out of the sensor, you really need Leica or Zeiss glass.

      It was then that I discovered what Fuji had been doing. Was it really possible to get Leica image quality and glass, but at a 7th of the price?

      Plus the fact that it functions just as easily as the M8 and M5 as a Manual camera. I looked at the X-Pro1 but read a lot about focusing problems (since fixed in firmware) and that the body alone was about £1000.

      I naturally progressed in my research to the X-E1 and the rest, as they say, is history. I haven’t looked back.

      The image quality is superb and I can zone focus or manually focus super quick, especially with the AE/AF button on the back of the camera.

      Hope this helps.

      Like

  3. I, also, have gone the Fuji route with an X-E1 and X100S. The X100S was first and, after selling all my “vintage” Nikon DSLR bodies and lens, came the X-E1 with the 1.4/35mm. I opted for the X-E1 over the X-Pro1 for the adjustable VF diopter and the 35mm over the 18-55mm zoom for an actual aperture ring and the fact I wanted to go with just primes for the direction I want to take my work. Can’t wait for the X-E1 to get here (bought off ebay) and hit my world to see what I can see. In the meantime, I am getting inspired through the work of my idol, Cartier-Breeson.

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  4. Hello,
    One annoyance I’ve found in the E-X1 is the difficulty in zone-focusing since the 18-55 has not visual marker for the distance. Setting it trough either the EVF or the LCD slows down the shooting and I didn’t find a workaround.
    Did you find any?

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    1. Hi Andrea and thanks for your question,

      The 18-55mm has a few little niggles that take some getting used to, like the Aperture and Manual Focusing Rings being in the wrong places and as you say, no distance markings.

      The best workaround I have found for setting zone focusing is to focus the lens on a stationary object that is at the approximate distance I’ll be shooting that day (eg. 5 meters). I do this either manually or by pressing the ‘AF’ button on the top right (if the camera is set to manual focus mode) and then adjust the aperture to give me a good working margin of focus, eg. f/8 – f/11. I have the camera set to Auto ISO with a Maximum ISO of 1600 and a Minimum Shutter of 160th (with the latest firmware, yippee). This way I can let the camera worry about metering and don’t have to worry about focusing (see below).

      The only thing I have to keep a check on is that I don’t knock the Manual Focus Ring, which is easy to do because as I said, the rings are ass-backwards. 🙂 If I do knock it, it’s a simple matter of just focusing on another object the right distance away with a quick press of the AF button.

      Hope this helps,

      Kev

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  5. Hey Kevin. I’ve been using the X-E2 for two months now alongside my 5D III the fuji is great. Same as you I have power on all the time, and the EVF comes on when you raise it to the eye which saves power. Will have some XE-2. samples on my new site soon.

    Like

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